Programming Their Paths: The 2022 Val and Sal


Elena Zhang

Your Pals, the Val&Sal—Seniors Jansen Wong (left) and Ross Williams (right) in front of the auditorium. These two friends are both planning to pursue Computer Science.


When Dr. Gitz announced the 2022 valedictorian and salutatorian at the end of the day on Friday, March 4, the only ones who were surprised were Jansen Wong and Ross Williams: the val and sal, respectively. 

Coincidentally, both are “big STEM bots,” as Ross puts it; Jansen has a prominent role on South’s Science Olympiad team, while Ross is the programming lead in Rebel Robotics. Any friend of either two, myself included, knows that when it comes to science and math, Wong and Williams both mean business. In this interview, I asked them a handful of questions so that students can get to know them better.


What were your favorite classes?

Jansen: Data Structures and Public Speaking. Data Structures since I like computers and learning how to program, and how everything in the program just works. I also had a lot of friends in the class, and when we finished our work early, we’d play games together. Public Speaking helped me conquer some of my fears not only in public speaking, but just in confidence in general. 

Ross: Geometry honors in freshman year since Mr. Dickson is honestly one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and the class was so funny. Sophomore year feels like it’s been deleted from my memory, but probably AP Computer Science. Data structures in junior year, and probably either BC Calc or Physics C this year because of my classmates.


When you procrastinate, what do you like doing instead of work?

Jansen: Watching stuff on Netflix, Youtube, or Tiktok; scrolling through Instagram or News; sleeping, eating, or riding my bike.

Ross: Gaming or watching random YouTube video essays/educational YouTube videos.


If you were to give a TedTalk, what would it be about?

Jansen: Finding a good balance in life, [and] what makes you happy. Something that I struggled with in high school was balancing work and play. I spent a lot of time figuring out what I liked doing. I think I’m still working on that, but I find it interesting and I’d like to talk about it, even though I wouldn’t know what to say.

Ross: “29 Days of Fun for One Day of Pain: or, How I Learned to Love Procrastinating”. Basically just about how instead of trying to fight against procrastination, I just accepted it and found that I honestly work pretty well under pressure. Whenever I try to do work early, I get overly obsessed with editing the small details. I constantly go back and try to edit to the point of perfection, but editing takes up too much time, so I end up saving time by doing work later. (But, I do not recommend it).


What is your favorite high school memory?

Jansen: Probably one of the nights staying really late after school and bonding with my friends in Science Olympiad. I’d been on the swim team and other clubs, but SciOly was the first close group of friends I had.

Ross: Senior Halloween, because even though very few people even knew who my friend group [dressed up as], we all got very nice looking costumes and looked sick together as a squad. I also had been waiting for it since freshman year. (Photo below)

Take Your Heart—Williams (center) and four of his friends in matching costumes in school the Friday before Halloween 2021. The group had dressed up as the male characters of the game Persona 5 for their Senior Halloween privilege. (Ross Williams)


What is some advice you’d want to tell your freshman self? (This is Wong and Williams giving advice to themselves, not anyone else).

Jansen: Enjoy your time more, worry about life less because in the end everything will end up being okay. Definitely talk to more people outside of your friend group earlier, open up more, and be less afraid of embarrassing yourself. Some degree of self control is good, but if you hold yourself back, it’ll be boring. Find something meaningful that you enjoy, and just focus on that.

Ross: Please don’t link your self-esteem to your academic performance, it’s not worth it. Don’t get tied up in grades, and don’t assume that people will judge you because of them because they’re not going to. Also, maybe you should actually try some clubs instead of signing up for like 50 and not going to any of them. Who knows, maybe you’ll like them? 


Who or what motivated you the most/keeps you motivated?

Jansen: Food, sleep, and the fear of failure. 

Ross: Honestly, my biggest motivation for school is just that I enjoy going. I was never really aiming to be [second] in the class or anything; I just like learning and going to school, so that was enough motivation to make me do the best I could. My motivation was never really an outside force.


Describe yourself in three adjectives.

Jansen: Interesting, curious, and excitable.

Ross: Easygoing, dependable, and inquisitive, probably not in that order.


What are your hopes/plans for the next five years? What do you hope to accomplish in your life (in general)?

Jansen: I hope to learn more about computer science in college and become a software engineer. Ultimately, I’d love to travel the world and try new foods. 

Ross: I want to graduate college and probably have an internship or maybe a job by then. Honestly, my biggest goal in life is just to enjoy what I do for a living, probably software development or game design, so work doesn’t feel like hell for 40 years. 


Which vegetable do you find superior?

Jansen: Potatoes. They’re so versatile. 

Ross: If you asked me this like four months ago, I would have said carrots. But now that I finally don’t have braces anymore, I’d probably say broccoli.